I hadn't heard of the Algiers-born, Paris-based pianist Martial Solal, and my review copy of this disc came in a bare bones state: just a cardboard sleeve, a listing of the tunes and musicians. No cover art, no liner notes.
A blind listen told me "Modernistic," a young lion full of the creative drive and fire.
Then I read more.
Martial Solal is 74 years old, having played with Sidney Bechet and recorded with Django Reinhart and Lee Konitz, among others. He has been recording for the French Dreyfus label of late. NY1: Live at the Village Vanguard was recorded a week after 9/11, and the disc opens with the Solal-penned "NY1," the name of the New York news channel in which the pianist was immersed prior to these performances. The song is edgy, stop-start, tempo-shifting... a great lead-in to the rest of the set.
Four of the tunes on the disc are originalsodd, angular, almost Cecil Taylorish compositions, anchored by Bill Stewart's shuffling drum work and Francois Moutin's solid bass lines. But the set alternates classics with the originals, creating an effective listening balance. "What Is This Thing Called Love?" rambles for fourteen facinating minutes, Solal and company exploring every permutation of the melody, every nook and cranny. "Body and Soul" and "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" are rendered in like fashion; these extended takes beautifully off-kilter renditions of familiar classics alternating with the pianist's edgy originalsmake the package.
For a piano trio to work, all the parts have to fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle: song selection and order, judicious and empathic support, the piano man out front prancing along that line between freedom and constrainthere leaning toward the freedom side. That's exactly what happens on NY1: Live at the Village Vanguard.
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